Environmental Law

Envt'l Law News Spring 2020, Vol. 29, No. 1

WHAT OIL HAS TO DO WITH IT: HOW THE DISCOVERY OF OIL UNDER CALIFORNIA’S TIDELANDS CAUSED A SEVENTY-YEAR BOUNDARY DISPUTE

by Jessica C. Rader*

After seventy years and seven trips to the United States Supreme Court, the location of the offshore boundary between California and the United States is finally known. In 2014, California and the United States submitted a joint request to the Supreme Court of the United States for the Court to permanently set the offshore boundary. On December 15, 2014, the Court granted the joint request and issued a consent decree that permanently fixes the boundary.1 Today, it is unlikely that anyone realizes the discovery of offshore oil resulted in the offshore boundary’s location being called into doubt. As described below, California’s complex relationship with its own oil resources was the primary driver in the state’s loss of control over its own offshore tidal and submerged lands to the federal government.2

I. PRE-1947: THE EVENTS LEADING TO THE STATES’ LOSS OF OFFSHORE RESOURCES TO THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

A. CALIFORNIA’S FORAY INTO OIL LEASING

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